Evolution is cruel. Our cool calm world is easily scattered into pieces by a comet, global warming, or some other lame metaphor that has no business interfering with our standard UX life. Nothing lives forever, that simple truth and its application to all aspects of life fits beautifully in our world of UI design patterns, especially around navigation. The fact that nothing is permanent not only enables us to smell the roses but also inspires us want something better. What are we to do in the ever-evolving world of standards, frameworks, device sizes, interaction variances, and the myriad of other ‘things’ that would drive us to make deliberate design decisions for the betterment of a product? How do we differentiate, innovate, and make those amazing leaps for navigation concepts that outlast fads and the interest of something because it is different?
The Dodo was a pretty sweet beast. Over time, it had evolved to a flightless juicy turkey who up to a point in time was completely fat dumb and happy. However, humans (also evolving) were learning to explore their world via boat, and one day come to a place where Dodos have been chilling for who knows how long. Sailors were hungry…they found an easy meal with very little work to acquire. In addition, with the sailors came animals and pests the Dodo wasn’t used to managing. If the Dodo could have just flown, we’d see them today (maybe?) probably have them as pets. Instead, in about 100 years (a brief amount of time considering how long they were probably there), we are left with little to no knowledge of their existence. Are we to assume those cozy and comfortable Navigation patterns will go the way of the Dodo or will endure longer as evolution sees fit? I’m a huge fan of evolution. I firmly believe, like natural selection, that navigation design patterns follow similar evolutionary patterns. If it works for the users/usage intended…it prevails. If it is flashy, but doesn’t do much OR is lazy OR it is counterproductive…it fades and disappears.
So, have we reached a point in navigation patterns where natural selection has determined a winner? I say yes! The two prevailing application patterns will continue to prevail and won’t greatly evolve in the world of desktops driven by mice. We should recognize this, focus on the brave new worlds outside this one and stop trying to slap natural selection in the face…it is silly. Our winners are; 1) Horizontal top and 2) Vertical left. And yes, this is speaking in the context of Left-to-Right language displays (the opposite applies for RTL). There is no such thing as a good reason to have a right navigation, just stop it!
While in the waiting room of metaphors to die, those of you who brought forward the primary right vertical menu because you thought you’d be different…I hope you are wearing a Dodo hat as you read this…you deserve it! There is a reason why certain design patterns are so prevalent…because they work for the users that are using them!
So, now what Mr./Mrs. negative, non-mobile pants? Responsive/Adaptive layouts kick major ass. If you’re not doing it, and you have users on various devices/viewing sizes, I am fairly certain you wouldn’t be reading this anyway. That being said, how do we make the best design decisions for those who will access our products with so many different landscapes? Mobile first? That isn’t the right approach, nor do I feel there is a meaningful silver bullet (pardon the overused metaphor) for all occasions. As always, know your users and usage patterns and let that drive your decision. If more people will access via mobile device, design your navigation accordingly (so that it responds adaptively :)) or multiple patterns/applications based on the device or viewing size. You can’t expect that left navigation will work well in any environment.
It’s time to evolve, however ONLY if and when you must…